Gates to show off Vista, new gadgets at CES

Microsoft positioning itself to lead in fiercely competitive mobile digital media market

Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates will give users a first look at some of the consumer-centric features of Windows Vista and unveil new partnerships for providing digital gadgets and services during his keynote at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Wednesday night.

Gates will call on consumers to let Microsoft help them stay connected to their digital media and information no matter where they are -- in their homes, on the road, or at the office, said Microsoft spokesman Matt Pilla. This marks the 10th consecutive year that Gates has given a speech at the massive trade show.

He also plans to highlight Microsoft's plan to provide the most high-definition digital content possible, an aim evident through the user experience of the Xbox 360 gaming console, Pilla said. Microsoft is on track to ship 4.5 million to 5.5 million Xbox 360 consoles by June, according to company estimates, and during his keynote Gates will position the console as the "killer app" to drive the adoption of HDTV (high-definition television), Pilla said.

Xbox 360 shipped on Nov. 22 in the U.S. and flew off the shelves during the December holiday gift-purchasing season, according to consumer reports. Many shoppers still cannot find it in stock in U.S. stores, which Microsoft has not widely addressed.

In addition to the Xbox, Microsoft has a host of products it hopes will lead the way in the consumer digital market, where competitors like Sony are duking it out to play a prominent role. Mobile digital media competition is also fierce.

Microsoft, which mainly provides software for hardware devices built by partners, will announce new partnerships at CES to drive Vista applications such as Windows Media Player and its next-generation chat client Windows Live Messenger, as well as the Windows Mobile and Windows Media Center Edition OSes.

During his talk, Gates will give a new demo of Windows Vista, which is expected to ship at the end of the year. Among the new features in the OS he will show how users can organize and share digital photos, and how search is integrated throughout the operating system, Pilla said.

Gates also will demonstrate for the first time a new dynamic protection service and parental controls in Internet Explorer 7, which will help protect consumers against malicious Web sites and block content that might not be suitable for young children.

During the keynote, Gates will announce a new partnership with MTV Networks to integrate MTV's Urge music service with Windows Media Player 11, which will be offered as part of Windows Vista. Through the deal, Urge will offer more than 2 million songs and exclusive content from MTV for Windows Media Player 11, Pilla said. The partnership will be promoted not only on MTV's network, but also on the VH-1 and Country Music Television music networks, he said.

On the gadget front, Gates will launch the first Palm handheld device to run Windows Mobile. The Palm Treo 700W will be available Thursday for Verizon Communications customers for $399 with a two-year service agreement, Pilla said. Microsoft and Palm first unveiled a collaboration to build a Windows Mobile Treo device in September.

Gates also plans to unveil the first phones that can make Internet-based calls using Microsoft's Internet-based chat software. Microsoft is teaming with Uniden America and Royal Philips Electronics to provide cordless telephones that make Internet-based voice calls using Windows Live Messenger 8.0, the next version of its chat software, Pilla said.

The WIN 1200 phone from Uniden will cost $99 and ship in the spring, and the VoIP 433 phone from Phillips -- which Gates will demonstrate -- will be available sometime this year in Asia-Pacific, Europe, and Latin America.

Both VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) service provider Vonage and eBay's VoIP client software provider Skype Internet unveiled similar partnerships on Tuesday with electronics vendors to provide phones.

Gates also will highlight new services for customers of Windows Media Center Edition PCs, which the company has positioned as a hub to drive the digital home since its release in September 2003.

Microsoft has struck new deals with content providers to give Media Center users more streaming content through its Online Spotlight service, Pilla said. New programs that will be available through that service are Comedy Central's "Motherload," MTV's "mtvU," Turner Broadcasting System's "Gametap," and VH-1's 'VSPOT."

In addition, Microsoft is lining up new partners to provide Windows Media Center content on portable devices. Gates will announce that Tatung, LG Electronics, and Toshiba have signed on to provide handheld devices that let Media Center users download video and audio content from their PCs to take with them, Pilla said.

There are currently more than 100 devices with the PlaysForSure logo, which certifies users can play their Media Center content on them seamlessly, he added.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.